Year 2014 was darkest for world’s polio eradication initiative

Written by  Syed Jafar Askari Friday, 10 April 2015 21:18

KARACHI- The year 2014 was the darkest for the world’s polio eradication initiative as the number of children affected by Polio in Pakistan mounted to 303.

Thousands of children are under threat of polio risk in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas because of the militants' ban on vaccinations.

Militant attacks on polio workers and tribal-religious mentality is behind the surge of this fatal disease among Pakistani children, said Dr. Mirza Ali Azhar, General Secretary Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), Centre.

He said that more than 60 polio workers had been killed during the last two years in the attacks of religious militant groups as they see vaccination campaigns as a cover for espionage. 

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), "poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects young children. The virus is transmitted by person-to-person spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, less frequently, by a common vehicle (e.g. contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and can cause paralysis."

This is true that American CIA used fake vaccines programme to capture Al Qaeda Head Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011, but I think that did not very much harm the country’s immunization campaign, Dr. Azher said and added that the polio eradication programme had already been facing resistance in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas. He maintained that after the killing of Bin Laden the ignorance of the tribal people towards vaccines’ programme converted into violence that caused death to dozens of polio workers in different parts of the country.


He said that thousands of children are under threat of polio risk in these areas because of the militants' ban on vaccinations. He said that as long as a single child remains infected in Pakistan, children not only in the country but also in all countries are at risk of contracting polio. 

The year 2014 witnessed the highest number of cases reported in the country since 1998, which has taken the name of Pakistan on the top rank in the list of the countries where polio cases are still being reported, he said and added that the rest of the world is polio free, while only three countries, including Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, remain polio-endemic.

He said that highest number of polio cases shows that the country has potential to have more than 60,000 possible cases of polio. Ruthless religious militant groups are playing with the lives and future of innocent children by attacking polio teams in the country, he said.

He said that misconceptions about polio vaccines had created an opposition against polio-eradication campaigns among the large number of clerics in the country.

"Some of the clerics think that polio vaccines are prepared from the blood of monkeys, the use of which is prohibited by Islamic laws. Polio vaccines are also thought to be an international conspiracy for the promotion of infertility in the country, which is considered the sixth populous country of the world. According to WHO recommendations all travellers across Pakistan will have to have Polio drops. This is a situation not unsurprising for many Pakistanis especially the Health analyst. PMA was raising its voice since a long time but in vain. It is a shameful happening for the 7th nuclear power of the world. PMA believes that there is no dearth of money, shortage of vaccines or crisis of man power. The only thing which we lack is a political will to eradicate Polio from the country and an honest system in place to do the job. At the moment there is a complete chaos and confusion,” he added.

It is worth mentioning here that in 1988, the forty-first World Health Assembly adopted a resolution for the worldwide eradication of polio. It marked the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), spearheaded by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF, and supported by key partners including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Senator Allama Abbas Kumeli, an anti-Taliban religious scholar who lost his son last year in a militant attack of Taliban in Karachi, declared Taliban and their supporters as mainly responsible for the ongoing political and social turmoil in the country. He said that these ignorant and callous people were playing with the future of Pakistani children by attacking polio workers.       


Talking about polio cases in Pakistan, WHO representative in Pakistan Dr. Michel Jean Jules Thieren told reporter that the last year, 2014, was bleak for Pakistan’s polio eradication programme. He added that the county witnessed 303 confirmed polio cases reported so far in the country during 2014, which made Pakistan the leading country in terms of having the highest number of cases in the world. Although these numbers are great as compared to the last 16 to 17 years, they should not intimidate anyone currently engaged in the fight against polio. Unlike in 1998 where the toll was roughly equal to this year's 303 figure, we benefit from a very strong experience and knowledge on how to content the epidemics and outbreaks, reach out all children, and dry the polio reservoirs.

To a query, he said that Pakistan’s polio eradication initiative was not only a purely public health programme, polio in Pakistan is also tributary of a singular geopolitical and security dynamic which requires concomitant attention along with polio. He further said that clerics, politicians and other public figures needed to spread awareness among the people who were in the grip of misconception about polio vaccines.

He said that overall Pakistan was going in the right direction, and hoped that the country would be polio free shortly, should the current plan and polio eradication strategy be implemented with full success.

Case breakdown by country


Year-to-date 2015

Year-to-date 2014

Total in

Onset of paralysis of  most  
 recent case





















Equatorial Guinea















Syrian Arab Republic










(Table is obtained from GPEI)


According to Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI),”Seven new wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) cases were reported in the past week, including the first case with onset of paralysis in 2015. The total number of WPV1 cases in 2014 is 303, and one for 2015 (onset of paralysis on 3 January, from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – KP).

No cases of type 2 Circulating Vaccine-Derived Poliovirus (CVDPV2) have been reported this week. The most recent CVDPV2 case had onset of paralysis in Khyber Agency, FATA, on 16 September 2014. The country reported 20 cases of CVDPV2 in 2014. Pakistan accounts for more than 85 per cent of all WPV1 cases worldwide in 2014. To urgently address the intense transmission affecting the country, the government has put in place emergency measures to take advantage of the upcoming ‘low season’ for poliovirus transmission (in the early part of 2015). A ‘low season plan’ has been established, based on lessons learned on accessing populations in insecure areas, engaging communities and fixing remaining operational challenges. Implementation is overseen by Emergency Operations Centres at federal and provincial levels to ensure accountability for the quality of polio eradication operations.”

According to statistics, prepared by Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), Pakistan possessed 119 registered polio cases in 2001, 90 in 2002, 103 in 2003, 53 in 2004, 28 in 2005, 40 in 2006, 32 in 2007, 117 in 2008, 89 in 2009, 144 in 2010, 198 in 2011, 58 in 2012, 93 in 2013 and 303 in 2014. The EPI statistics show that number of polio cases crossed hundred figures in 2001 with 119 cases, 2003 with 103, 2008 with 117, 2010 with 144, 2011 with 198, and 2014 with 303 cases.  

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